Krishna goes to Sri Lanka minus the war’s shadow

November 21st, 2010 - 6:35 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh By M.R. Narayan Swamy
New Delhi, Nov 21 (IANS) External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna goes to Colombo Thursday with one clear agenda: mark a new beginning in India-Sri Lanka relations minus the shadow of the ethnic conflict and the Tamil Tigers.

The highest profile visitor from India after the Tamil Tigers were crushed over a year ago, Krishna will hold bilateral talks, call on President Mahinda Rajapaksa as well as open Indian consulates in Jaffna and Hambantota.

Although India remains committed to helping Sri Lanka rehabilitate refugees caused by the war and emphasize the need for a political dialogue with the Tamil minority, it wants to steer bilateral ties from the mistrust of the past.

New Delhi feels that the end of the armed conflict in Sri Lanka, which left an incredible 90,000 people dead since 1983 and the nation wounded, has given the two countries an opportunity to start a new bilateral innings.

Krishna’s hectic three-day trip will be the first major step in that direction.

In his interactions in Sri Lanka, the minister will lay emphasis on greater opening up of the two economies to one another, promoting better connectivity, pushing up people-to-people contacts and making bilateral ties more intense.

India and Sri Lanka also want to increase their military relations, which until now were mostly a quiet affair, often clouded by New Delhi’s domestic compulsions.

Krishna and his Sri Lanka counterpart G.L. Peiris will preside over the meeting of their Joint Commission in Colombo. The Indian minister will inaugurate a housing project and rail links in Sri Lanka’s north, which was the main war theatre.

One of the railway lines will link Talaimannar and Madhu Church in Sri Lanka’s northwest and the other Omanthai and Pallai in the north.
Krishna will also donate farm equipment and see how India-aided projects that have got delayed can be speeded up.

New Delhi is conscious that some of the promises about devolution of autonomous power to the minorities made by Sri Lankan leaders in recent years to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh remain to be implemented.

India will continue to engage Sri Lanka on the issue. But it will not let it overshadow a bilateral relationship that in the past appeared to be held hostage by the ethnic conflict.

When Krishna goes to Jaffna, he will be the first Indian foreign minister to do so after K. Natwar Singh, who flew to the Tamil heartland in 1989 for the funeral of Tamil political leader A. Amirthalingam, who was killed by the Tamil Tigers.

India’s decision to open consulates in Jaffna, where Tamil militancy began in the 1970s, and Hambantota, in the Sinhalese south about 240 km from Colombo, are aimed at deepening the bilateral engagements in many ways.

Besides its high commission in Colombo, India now has a consulate in Kandy, the tea growing hill region home to what are known as “Indian Tamils”.

V. Mahalingam, who until recently headed the passport office in New Delhi, will be India’s consul in Jaffna. The consulate in Hambantota, which is also Rajapaksa’s political turf, will be headed by K.N. Mohankumaran.

A small section of the Sri Lankan media has tried to link Krishna’s visit to the Nov 26 birth anniversary of slain Tamil Tigers chief Velupillai Prabhakaran, provoking some amusement in New Delhi.

The reality is that India is more than anxious to bury Prabhakaran’s shadow as it moves ahead to forge new ties with Sri Lanka to make up for the lost years.

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